Black History Month – observed annually in February – is a celebration of achievements by Black Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in history. The world of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is not without a Black history of its own. For instance:
George Washington Carver was an agricultural scientist, born into slavery, who pioneered techniques to improve soils that have been depleted by crops. He was instrumental in developing sustainable peanut and sweet potato crops.
Dr. Nola Hylton had a BS in chemical engineering and an Ph.D. in physics which she used to help develop magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology. This advancement has led to increased detection and diagnois of breast and other cancers.
Katherine Johnson was a math whiz who worked for NASA as a “human computer.” She could solve difficult math problems and helped plan the first moon landing.
These are just a few of the many contributions to STEM made by Black individuals throughout history.
Our research has shown that, despite a rich legacy of STEM achievement, Black people continue to experience STEM enrichment, education and employment gaps. This infographic demonstrates the disparity between Black people and other racial groups when it comes to STEM education and jobs.
You can download to share the infographic here:
If your company is interested in learning more about how to support the Black community through STEM enrichment in New Jersey, please consider becoming a corporate sponsor of JerseySTEM.
It may be cold and snowy here in New Jersey, but our 2022 JerseySTEM enrichment programs are revving up nonetheless!
In Cliffside Park, about 30 students have joined our Coding 100 classes at Cliffside Park Middle School for exposure to basic computer programming skills; and to learn what’s possible through coding. According to the district website, the school district mission is “to educate and challenge students to become skillful communicators, independent thinkers, and life-long learners.” So far, our after-school program is receiving positive feedback as it works to serve the needs of this multicultural population in line with this mission.
The students of the Cliffside Park School District are spread across several demographics with roughly 32% White, 2% Black, 4% Asian, and 61% Hispanic. The district is split about evenly between male and female students.*
No less diverse, the city of Newark is also beginning a round of our Coding 100 classes at Robert Treat Academy Charter School, Inc. with about 30 additional students. We love the school motto: “Work hard; Be the best that you can be; Be kind to one another; and most importantly, Make good choices!”
Check back often to hear more about our STEM enrichment programs in New Jersey schools in 2022. We are looking forward to expanding into other vibrant communities like Jersey City, Irvington, Branchburg and beyond. All after-school programs are provided by JerseySTEM, free of charge for participants.
How much do people rely on chance to get ahead in life?
According to Scientific American, we do it alot. “Are the most successful people mostly just the luckiest people in our society?” the blog asks. It points to studies that demonstrate how chance does, in fact, factor into human success stories:
The list goes on. It’s no wonder, our JerseySTEM volunteers often sound a familiar refrain: “Give girls a chance!”
Selwyn Browne is no different. As a volunteer, he has worked to establish a technical infrastructure that supports other volunteers and students alike. He brought us his cyber and networking security acumen, along with an entrepreneurial approach to evaluating and implementing new technologies for our organization.
“What inspired me most about volunteering with JerseySTEM is its mission and the exceptional work the organization does in many of the underserved and poorer communities,” Selwyn explains.
“(T)hese kids now have a better chance of getting a better education, getting into better colleges, and fulfilling their dreams in life.”
There’s that word “chance.” It implies a certain lack of equity. Some people are just lucky… others aren’t. Life’s not fair. (That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive to make it as fair as possible.)
“(The STEM enrichment) gap will continue to widen, putting already vulnerable students at even more of an educational disadvantage, unless greater emphasis and resources are brought to bear to address the issue. Having access to education and the necessary resources is something every young person should have available to them regardless of socioeconomic status,” he says, echoing the JerseySTEM mission.
“My vision for the future of JerseySTEM is to see the organization continue with its mission and goals to reduce the gender gap in STEM participation, bridge the innovation gap in STEM education, and address the opportunity gap. It (has) worked with many of JerseySTEM’s volunteers and I know this is an achievable goal.”
Meet Ellie. She’s 11 and she attends school in Wayne, New Jersey where she enjoys, in particular, her science and math classes. The fact that there is an Ellie-of-sixth-grade-enjoying-STEM-enrichment is a testament to the fact that young girls can – and do! – like science, technology, engineering and math…if only they knew this were possible.
Ellie is a smart and confident kid. She’s so smart and confident that she has agreed to show off her smarts for JerseySTEM by challenging you, Reader, to a duel. Ellie will demonstrate her aptitude in instances of each of the four areas of STEM. Read along to see if you know as much as Ellie about science, technology, engineering or math.
We hope you’ve enjoyed testing your knowledge of sixth grade STEM concepts. Furthermore, we hope you’ve seen value in the Ellies of the world gaining access to STEM enrichment.
Ellie – who dreams of one day becoming a marine biologist and working to help whales and porpoises – is fortunate to have wonderful STEM classes and after school programs at her New Jersey school; but many girls aren’t that lucky. That’s why JerseySTEM works to provide mentoring and after school enrichment for middle school girls in underserved communities.
“I was inspired to volunteer with JerseySTEM as I continued to witness how disproportionately women and minorities, in particular in underserved communities, did not have access to STEM opportunities.
I wanted to be part of a team building out the pipeline of talent for our future leaders.”
For Tonya Walley, the STEM education gap is a personal affront: “I am hoping (JerseySTEM) will close the equity gap on women and minorities in STEM roles,” she explains about the long-term JerseySTEM goal of advancing women and minorities in the STEM workforce.
“I believe the STEM enrichment gap exists in our country because there are access issues, in that some (school) districts do not have appropriate funding for STEM-related activities. There is also an issue with pure STEM awareness and how everything we do has tentacles in STEM learnings.”
Tonya works as a leader in field operations and plant maintenance for Cox Communications. While hers is a career most obviously rooted in technology, she acknowledges that she would not have gotten to where she is professionally without exposure to STEM enrichment; and she believes that technology (capital T in STEM) touches most jobs these days. Ergo, STEM enrichment is quite essential to a comprehensive education plan.
Tonya has volunteered directly with New Jersey school students to help bridge the STEM enrichment gap. She helped with onsite activities such as building robots and educating kids on the importance of STEM knowledge in the workplace.
JerseySTEM has been effective at enriching STEM education for New Jersey students these past nine years because of passionate volunteers like Tonya: “My vision for the future of JerseySTEM is that there would be a robust communication plan to educate students on the importance of STEM roles and that there would be funding allocated to teach students and expose them to STEM activities,” she says.
We quite agree!
Please consider doing what Tonya and other STEM professionals are doing to help build a strong pipeline of future leaders. Thank you!
Perhaps JerseySTEM founder and Board member Nabil Mouline has worked to help the young women of New Jersey access STEM education because he is a father to girls who already have this exposure. Or perhaps it’s because he speaks multiple languages – having worked for more than three decades on four different continents; and he wants to help teach the whole world the “language” of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
Whatever his personal reason, Nabil is completely clear about the JerseySTEM purpose: “JerseySTEM was started as a grassroots collective effort of citizens concerned about the disparity in access to STEM exposure for girls in the defining years of middle school,” he says. “That lack of exposure for girls in underserved communities leads to a lack of confidence, self esteem and interest in STEM topics.”
If you imagine the impact such a lack of confidence can have on the young women you know, you can easily understand why the volunteer team at JerseySTEM has worked to bring STEM exposure to middle school students since 2013. Now in our ninth year, we’re bouncing back after school closings and social distancing – due to the COVID-19 pandemic – have caused STEM exposure to erode even further.
A May 2021 report from Human Rights Watch posits that the pandemic’s academic disruptions have been especially taxing for children in lower-income families, where there is limited access to technology at home, or even a lack of Internet connectivity. A report from the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights entitled Education in a Pandemic: The Disparate Impacts of COVID-19 on America’s Studentspoints out that, pre-pandemic, “Black and Latinx students nationwide continued to trail their white peers on the eighth grade Math assessment—by 32 points…Fourth-grade reading scores tell a similar story, with Black students lagging their white peers by 26 points (204 to 230), and Latinx students scoring lower than white students by 21 points (209 to 230).” The report goes on to expose the disproportionately dire consequences with which the pandemic has presented children of color:
Black children accounted for 20% of those who had lost a parent to COVID-19 through early 2021, despite making up only 14% of all children in the United States
Schools whose student body is mainly or exclusively students of color have been more likely to identify a major need for high-quality materials to support students’ social-emotional learning and mental health needs than predominantly white schools
As recently as March 2021, 58% of white students attending schools that serve fourth graders were enrolled in fulltime in-person instruction, compared to only 36% of Black students, 35% of Latinx students, and 18% of Asian students
With the education gap having been identified before the pandemic, and then exacerbated during it, experts expect disparities in academic achievement to climb in the coming years.
“Many under-resourced school districts need to focus their time covering the foundations of education (reading, writing, counting, social studies, etc.) and the welfare (nutrition, health and safety) of the students,” Nabil says. “This leaves them with little bandwidth to expand on what is not required by the NJ Department of Education.”
That’s where JerseySTEM comes in. In 2022, we are funding scholarships for college students who, in turn, volunteer as program instructors for middle school students – especially girls – in underserved communities in the state. The goal is to support both the college students in their pursuit of STEM higher education, and the elementary students who need a leg up in the sciences now more than ever.
“We are blessed to have a large number of like-minded volunteers and civically-engaged corporations interested in filling this gap,” explains Nabil.
“As JerseySTEM grows, we will be able to serve more kids in more communities and convert all that goodwill into teaching moments for those kids who need it. We are proud to be the catalysts, brokers and foot soldiers for that enterprise.”